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Do We Expect Too Much from Elected Officials?

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Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
Jeff Rea

Our expectations of our elected and appointed leaders are great, and they should be. At the same time, I think those expectations can be unrealistic.

Do more with less. Fix that deficit but don’t cut those important things. Adjust to rising costs, but make sure it doesn’t cost more. Educate our kids. Fix our roads. Keep my neighborhood safe. Provide quality recreational opportunities at little to no cost. Make sure you’re open at hours that are convenient.

We see those expectations playing out in the daily news as the community wrestles with change. The sale of the Elbel Golf Course is a good example. The city has looked to sell the course that is outside the city and has been a drain on the city budget. Opposition has gathered to stop that action and opposes any sale or lease, though no plan includes revenue to fund any different path.

We’ve seen it play out in many other examples, ranging from bus routes to library hours, from after-school programs to vote centers, from police protection to 911 service. We demand great things from our government and from our schools. It costs money to deliver those things citizens demand.

Our area is embarking on some challenging times. We’re now less than four years away from the full implementation of property tax caps in our area. Already, we’ve seen the belt tightening as taxing entities prepare for significant revenue losses. That belt tightening has led to some efficiency, but a lot of resistance to changes that leaders have suggested as necessary.

The rest of the state is ahead of us. Property tax caps were implemented in 2008, and made part of the state Constitution in 2010. Hoosiers approved the caps that limit property tax bills to 1 percent of the assessed value of homes, 2 percent for farms and rental properties and 3 percent for businesses. St. Joseph and Lake counties were given an extra 10 years to implement the caps.

More than 70 percent of the people voted to place those caps in the constitution, an overwhelming mandate from the public for lower costs and more efficiency from our governments. Estimates at the time were for more than $500 million in annual savings to taxpayers.

The loss of tax revenue has forced city and county governments and schools to consider consolidation options. In many areas, government units have eliminated some services. Local governments are also looking at revenue-enhancing tools such as other taxes and higher charges and fees where possible.

We see similar dialogue at the national level, where we demand lower taxes and a reduction in the budget but don’t want any changes to things like national defense, Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare, or other important programs. We see this at the post office, where despite losses well into the billions, we demand services at the same level we see today.

So how do we fix it? It’s essential we have quality leaders willing to make the hard decisions. Our businesses make those hard decisions each day.

This is an important year for us to select those leaders, with elections that impact you at every level, ranging from president all the way to school board. It’s critical your voice is heard by way of your vote.

Then we have to trust and support those leaders to lead. Yes, we have a responsibility to hold them accountable, but let’s make sure our expectations are realistic. And if we disagree, we have to come with a real plan. Second guessing isn’t a strategy.

Source: South Bend Tribune

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